The Rise of Robert Hodgins

When you think of Robert Hodgins, you are reminded of the artist, the expressionist, a man who earned the kind words his friends remember him with. Spending much of his life as a “working” man, he left his position as a Senior Lecturer at Wits to become a full-time artist.

Hodgins had done a number of exhibits from as early as the 50’s, even though his work was only recognised in 1981. Living in apartheid-South Africa, he used his art to make anti-apartheid statements. This was a trend followed by many artists. He particularly enjoyed satirizing figures of power. These expressions had a major impact on the social climate of South Africa. In response to this Standard Bank National Arts Festival hosted a major retrospective exhibition in 1986.

Robert Hodgins had quite a remarkable rise from his days of teaching painting and drawing in Pretoria to the much loved South African artist he became towards the end of his life. His biography reads like a novel, an inquiring artist who made his way through life and became an accomplished artists towards the end.

Some of his earliest works include “Hidden Man” which he produced during his time at Pretoria Technical College; he actually made his own frame for that painting. “Man with a Cup” made its way to the Gertrude Possel Gallery, Hodgins’ work at the time was characterised by dark lines and sombre line work.

Art and politics are an unlikely combination, but in the 80s Hodgins used art to cut to the bone of inequality. (photo credit: timeslive.co.za, artnet.com, artvalue.com)
Art and politics are an unlikely combination, but in the 80s Hodgins used art to cut to the bone of inequality.
(photo credit: timeslive.co.za, artnet.com, artvalue.com)

The early 1980s saw the arrival of the iconic Ubu character in Hodgins work. Ubu Roi was a character from one of  Alfred Jarry’s stories. Ubu became a central figure of Robert Hodgins’ art, especially during the 80s, when so much of his work was focussed on depicting the social wrongs of the day. In “Ubu and Mr America”, a dreamy-eyed Ubu, painted in a series of lines, swirls and flat planes of colour gazes lustfully at muscular bodybuilder. In contrast, the Mr America figure is painted with warm colours and textured with fine indentations, like the pores of human skin.

This was the real Robert Hodgins, the artist who was not content with the status quo, but chose to use his expression as a voice against injustice. He started building a loyal following, not only because he made a statement, but because he spoke their language.

Robert Hodgins: The Optimistic Old Sod

The life of Robert Hodgins does not just lie in his art, almost more importantly it lies in the hearts of those close to him. He is described by some as an expressionistic painter and others label him as a graphic artist. Regardless of where he fits, Hodgins’ art makes him a much loved figure in the history books of South African art.

Robert Hodgins was born in Dulwich, London. His earliest encounters with art woud be from his childhood; it has been noted that many of the city’s fine galleries became his hideout during the cold winters in his home city. He went on to finish his schooling career in England before immigrating to South Africa. As a young adult he joined the Union Defence Force and served in various African countries before returning to England where he was discharged at the end of the second World War.

The life of Robert Hodgins, marked with an honest interpretation of life around him.
The life of Robert Hodgins, marked with an honest interpretation of life around him. (photo credit: www.artvault.co.za , pixgood.com, bu.edu)

He spent the first few years of his post-military life studying teaching and art. After returning to South Africa in the mid-fifties, he embarked on a career as a teacher and journalist, culminating in the position of Assistant Editor at “Newsweek” and later on filling the position of Senior Lecturer in the Department of Fine Art at the University of Witwatersrand. The university was probably his last employer and ushered in the start of his career as an artist.

Robert Hodgins is revered among his peers, most notably by the South African conceptual artist, Kendell Geers who paid tribute to Hodgins with the following words: “Very few artists command the respect and admiration of their peers in the way Robert Hodgins does, a reverence often verging on cult status.”

Join us for part two as we explore is life as an artist.

Exhibition: ‘Life, Distilled.’

This exhibition is about LIFE itself:

its emotions, memories and happenings,

distilled into a single moment: captured on canvas, by lens, in wood.

Life, Distilled - an exhibition of South African art by Absolut Art Gallery

ARTISTS:
Roberts Hodgins | Frans Oerder | Tinus de Jongh | J. E. A. Volschenk | Piet van Heerden | Adriaan Boshoff | Pieter Bauermeister | Edward Roworth | Lisa Roberts | Robert Gwelo Goodman | Louis Maqhubela | Sydney Kumalo | Thijs Nel | Daniel Rakgoathe | Nat Mokgosi | Erik Laubscher | Zakkie Eloff | Stanley Pinker


Each of us experiences life in an indelibly unique way – and we capture and communicate our experiences just as uniquely. Some capture experiences in paint, photographs or penned words on paper, distilling life down to the most absolute essence. For some it is a moment of exquisite joy they capture. For others, despair and disappointment. For some, they ask questions about life and its meaning – while for others again, their distillations of life attempt an answer.

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” ~ Cesare Pavese

Life, Distilled seeks to shift your gaze away from the constant clutter of our lives, and block out the noise so our ears can hear our own true heartbeat. Each work presented is an opportunity to leave the toil and hassle behind you and return to simplicity, purity and clarity.

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